When President Ronald Reagan presented Roy Perez Benavidez with his Medal of Honor in 1981, the President told the media that if someone had written a fictional story with a hero like Benavidez, nobody would have believed it. And, in fact, in his autobiography Medal of Honor: One Man’s Journey from Poverty and Prejudice, the story Benavidez tells is the stuff that movies are made of. Benavidez was an orphan in south Texas, a half-breed Indian and Hipic in an era when neither was acceptable.
He dropped out of school before even making it to high school, but as a staff sergeant in the Army during the conflict in Vietnam; he saved eight other men and prevented classified documents from falling into the hands of the enemy. (“Vietnam War Medal of Honor Recipient”) In essence, Benavidez is a true American success story. He was born to migrant farm workers and received the highest commendation that the United States offers for bravery in conflict. However, it may have been Benavidez never say die attitude that did more to establish his positive contributions to American society than his war record.
As the medevac chopper landed the wounded were examined one by one. Staff Sergeant Benavidez could only hear what was going on around him. He had over thirty seven puncture wounds. His intestines were exposed. He could not see as his eyes were caked in blood and unable to open. Neither could he speak, his jaw broken, clubbed by a North Vietnamese rifle. But he knew what was happening, and it was the scariest moment of his life, even more so than the earlier events of the day. He lay in a body bag, bathed in his own blood. Jerry Cottingham, a friend screamed “That’s Benavidez. Get a doc”.
When the doctor arrived he placed his hand on Roy’s chest to feel for a heartbeat. He pronounced him dead. The physician shook his head. “There’s nothing I can do for him. ” As the doctor bent over to zip up the body bag. Benavidez did the only thing he could think of to let the doctor know that he was alive. He spit in the doctor’s face. The surprised doctor reversed Roy’s condition from dead to “He won’t make it, but we’ll try”. (Rouse) These were the wounds that Benavidez received the day he save eight men and won a Medal of Honor, but the reality is this was not the first time he had been gravely wounded in Vietnam.
Four years earlier, in 1964, Benavidez was hit with shrapnel from a land mind and doctors said he would not recover. They said he would never walk again. They were wrong. In an exerpt from his book, Benavidez explains, Night after night, I bailed out of bed, crawled for the wall at the head of my bed and pulled myself up. I pushed the nightstands ahead with my arms, pressed my feet against the cold tile floor, and dragged my dead body along until my arms were under me again. Then I’d start all over again. Finally, I was moving about two tiles at a time. . .
I had learned that if I got knocked down, I had to get up and keep fighting until I knocked my opponent down, and he didn’t get up. Every night I got knocked down. Every night I got back up again. . . The pain was like nothing I could have ever dreamed about. Every night it would suck the sweat and tears from my body and my soul. Every day I would go back to that little chapel and sit alone and restore my soul. I went through all the stages of blaming God, accusing, doubting, and arguing, but he never deserted me. He’d never let me leave that chapel until I was ready to try again.
After chapel, I went to physical therapy to try to restore the rest of my body for my nightly battle. In therapy I’d sit with the guys with no legs, or the true paraplegics, and learn how to live in the chair. I was not a good student. I wouldn’t give in to the chair. At night I was beginning to win my battle, and I wasn’t going to let the therapists convince me that it was a lost cause. (“Vietnam Medal of Honor”) That strength of spirit is perhaps the most lasting contribution Benavidez made to his country. Years later, as he lay dying, Benavidez had the same attitude.
With two pieces of shrapnel still in his heart and a collapsed lung and diabetes, he reportedly said “quitters never win and winners never quit,” in his last interview, saying that he wanted to recover so he could continue working as a motivational speaker. (Mishalov) Another of Benavidez’s lasting contributions to the country came in the form of his activism after winning the Medal of Honor. During the Reagan Administration, Social Security attempted to cut his disability benefits, saying that the disabled war hero should find work.
Though he regretted using his Medal for political purposes, he wore it as he testified to a Congressional committee regarding the unfairness of their Social Security budget cuts (Mishalov). Benavidez’s contribution are numerous, based mostly around his attitude of try, try again. He has an elementary school named for him and the U. S. Navy named a ship in his honor, a rare occurrence for the Navy to honor a member of another branch of the service. But Benavidez set all the honors and praise aside, saying that he did not consider himself a hero for his actions the day he won the Medal of Honor.
The heroes, he said, were the men who lost their lives for their country. His actions were simply “his duty. ” (Mishalov). Benavidez died of diabetes-related complications in November, 1998. Works Cited Mishalov, Neil. “Medal of Honor: Roy P. Benavidez” <http://www. mishalov. com/Benavidez. html> June 14, 2007. Rouse, Ed. “Roy P. Benavidez” <http://www. psywarrior. com/benavidez. html>, June 14, 2007. “Vietnam War Medal of Honor Recipient” http://www. medalofhonor. com/RoyBenavidez. htm>, June 14, 2007.